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Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan



What Is Marriage?
Man And Woman: A Defense
by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George
Encounter Books

This is one of the very best contemporary accounts of the meaning of marriage. According to the authors, there are two rival understandings of marriage. They are the conjugal view and the revisionist view. According to the conjugal view, marriage is a union of man and woman that is oriented to procreation and child rearing.  It is exclusive and permanent. The words "oriented to" reminds us that procreation may not occur in a marriage due to infertility, for example. But it is still a marriage precisely because it is a union of man and woman who are not intending to do anything against the procreative good.

According to the revisionist view, marriage is a union of emotions. Procreation has little to do with this version of marriage. But if this version is correct, what interest is it to the state? Does the state have a vested interest in the amount of love between two people? Surely not. But the state does have an interest in the future, in children. And all the research in the fields of mental health and social sciences show that children do best when living with their biological fathers and mothers.

So the state has an interest in the conjugal view of marriage. What happens if instead it promotes the revisionist view? If emotions are what matter, what happens when the emotional well between two people runs dry? The obvious answer is to split up and seek another emotional union. And why not marry more than one person if that is what you need to fulfill your emotional needs? Marriage thus ceases to be understood as permanent and exclusive union. Without this understanding and commitment, an increasing number of young people are asking themselves why bother marrying at all?

The authors have beautifully argued that only the conjugal view should be of interest to the state. This is because the state has an interest in the emotional and physical well-being of spouses and children. Otherwise, the state should interfere as little as possible in family life.

But is not this view homophobic? Not at all. The whole gay marriage debate is not really about who should marry but asking the more basic question: what is marriage? The authors have argued that marriage is an exclusive and permanent union of one man and one woman. If that is so, then it is hardly homosexuals who have devastated the institution of marriage. That came about several years ago with widespread divorce and with contracepting couples who chose not to have children, thus disorienting their union from what marriage was intended to be.

The revisionist view has been in place for some decades now. It has all but destroyed marriage. The authors rightly remind us that the only way forward is the promotion of the conjugal view of marriage.






Copyright ; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2020

Version: 18th August 2020



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